A new report from Public Health England said that the emissions created as a result of fracking were unlikely to have any significant effect on the health of people living in the area so long as they were properly managed.
Dr John Harrison, director of PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: “Where potential risks have been identified in other countries, the reported problems are typically due to operational failure.”
Problems elsewhere are results of poor management
This was backed by his colleague, Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at Public Health England, who said: “Our findings are that this process is low-risk. There are potential risks if the processes are not well-run. It is for the regulators to ensure that they are well-run.”
The body bemoaned the lack of research that has gone into looking at the effects of fracking over the last few years, but added that despite a shortage of information it knows enough to alleviate fears for now.
Some of the worries that have been aired since the global extraction process first came to the fore include that it could cause cancer and breathing difficulties, but Public Health England said that there was no evidence to support this.
The organisation said the biggest risk that could be faced would be contamination of groundwater, with any contaminants likely to find their way into drinking water.
However, it said that this is only possible from leaks through the borehole, supporting its claim that any project which is correctly maintained would be able to easily protect against such dangers.
It added that because 99% of drinking water in the UK comes from heavily regulated companies, the body could not consider the leaking of contaminants into water sources as anything more than very low risk.
Looking forward, Public Health England said it will be making a number of recommendations to keep risks low. These will include the need for environmental monitoring to provide a baseline ahead of shale gas extraction and effective environmental monitoring during the development, production and post-production of shale gas wells.
Government welcomes findings
The findings of the research from Public Health England have been unsurprisingly welcomed by the government. Many in Westminster have been keen to get involved with fracking, labelling it as the future of energy sourcing.
Energy minister Michael Fallon said of the study: “The UK has the most robust regulatory regime in the world for shale gas, and companies will only be granted permission to frack for shale if their operations are safe. Public safety and health is paramount and government will continue to work with industry to ensure the stringent safety guidelines are upheld as they explore the great potential for shale.”
However, support for the method of extraction has never been easy to come by, and some rejected the latest findings.
Helen Rimmer, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Evidence suggests fracking has contaminated drinking water in Australia and the US. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen here – especially given gaping holes in regulations.”